I didn't plan to make bread today, but once I decided to make creamy chick pea soup for dinner (and apples stuffed with rice) I thought the meal could use a bit of bread (no seriously, we like carbohydrates. I know that seems like quite a bit, but there isn't that much rice in the apples). Pita was my first thought, but I'm somewhat inundated with rosemary at the moment and really, there's only so much chutney a family can eat.
This is not a slow, start with a sponge rustic style bread. Even so, it does develop a good flavour and as you can see, looks gorgeous. I'd describe it as heavier than a Scala Bread, but lighter than a French Bread. I was still able to achieve a wonderful crust by creating stem in the oven. It occurred to me that I could have baked it in the enamel casserole as I do with the No-Knead Bread, but eh, I'm a creature of habit and I went for the water in a pan at the bottom of the oven.
I used quite a bit of olive oil in this bread (five tablespoons) and you could certainly cut that back or omit it altogether. This bread would also stand up to a couple cups of whole wheat as a substitute, though in that case I would keep the oil in to prevent it getting too hard.
The loaf will get very dark (at least using bread flour) but to properly gauge whether it is baked through, I rely on an instant read thermometer. I baked this bread to 205 degrees F. Sometimes an extra minute or two in the oven is the difference between heavy, gummy bread or light and airy. A thermometer helps take some of the guess work out of baking.
You Will Need:
3 3/4 teaspoons yeast (not instant)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon salt
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh, rosemary
4-5 cups bread flour
cornmeal for dusting
Water for steam
Dissolve the yeast and sugar in a large bowl with the water. Let proof five minutes (or so). Add the salt, oil and rosemary. Add the flour, one cup at a time (a wooden spoon helps if you're working by hand as I am) until it is no longer sticky. Move to a floured surface and knead for a good ten minutes or until smooth and elastic (unlike most of the breads I bake, you want the dough for this fairly firm). Place in an oiled bowl and cover. Let rise in a warm spot for about 2 hours.
Remove dough to a board and gently fold first in one direction, and then the other.
Toss a baking sheet with cornmeal. Shape the dough into desired shape (I did mine in a football shape because I stink at rounds. You could also make a very long baguette). Cover and let rest 45 minutes to an hour or until almost doubled in bulk.
Begin pre-heating the oven to 450 degrees F. about 45 minutes before baking the bread. Use whatever technique you prefer for creating steam. It always pays to check your oven manual as I cannot be responsible if you blow-up your oven. If you're in doubt, I suggest skipping the steam. Load the bread into the oven and shut the door (and keep it shut for 20 minutes. At this point, rotate the sheet and bake another 10-15 minutes or until it is 205 degrees F. on an internal read thermometer, or sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom.
Cool on a rack. As this bread cools, you'll hear the most wonderful crackling sound as the crust does its thing. I probably don't need to tell you how wonderful rosemary smells, but the toasted cornmeal on the pan also sends a wonderful smell through the house.
Allow bread to cool completely before slicing.
This bread also freezes well. My preferred method is to wrap the loaf first in waxed paper and then tightly in plastic wrap. Unlike some of the"artisan" breads, this keeps well and tends not to get too stale overnight. When it finally does dry out, it makes wonderful croutons.